Woolworths customer claims R500?000 in damages after allegedly losing partial use of her fingers

2015-02-17 00:00

A WOOLWORTHS customer who was injured in the chain’s Dr Pixley KaSeme (former West Street) store in Durban is taking on the retailer and demanding that it pay for her medical and other expenses and the post traumatic stress she has allegedly endured since the incident.

Jabu Mhlongo (48), unhappy with the way Woolworths allegedly treated her without empathy, has claimed R500 000 from the retailer, alleging that she has also lost partial use of her fingers, after injuring her hand in the store, which was undergoing renovations, on ­August 30 last year.

Mhlongo, a nurse by profession, said she had rested her hand on a fridge after a staff member had directed her to the waist high fridge to find chicken.

“I put my hand on top of it and turned to say there is no meat here,” she said.

Mhlongo said a razor sharp piece of metal on the side of the fridge sliced a nerve in her hand, which bled profusely. She said she asked a staff member who was stacking vegetables and a security guard to call a first aider.

“Nobody came to help me until this boy [the vegetable stacker] ran to get bandages,” Mhlongo said. “I was crying in misery and then they said, ‘Don’t go home. You must see the supervisor’,” Mhlongo said.

However, Mhlongo claimed the ­supervisor told her it was a small cut and she should “go home and come back ­tomorrow if it’s worse”.

“I couldn’t move an inch and called my cousin to help me,” she said.

However, Woolworths said an ­employee had assisted her at the scene and she had then disappeared.

Mhlongo said her hand was swollen and bruised when she went back to the store the next day — a Sunday — and spoke to another supervisor, who told her to go home because head office, which had to provide direction, was closed.

But when Woolworths didn’t call her the next day, Mhlongo said she went to her doctor, who told her she needed an operation.

Woolworths finally called her on the Tuesday, Mhlongo said, advising that she should go to a doctor.

Mhlongo underwent multiple operations after complications and infection set in.

She said she had to take unpaid sick leave of more than a month and missed her Unisa exams.

Mhlongo said she went back to ­Woolworths to lodge a claim for her costs and spoke to “Abbey” at head office who told her to forward her medical bills and that Woolworths would pay her out “in three days”.

Mhlongo said she sent the hospital bills, paid for by her medical aid, to ­Woolworths asking the company to ­reimburse her since she had taken unpaid leave, was seeing a psychologist for post traumatic stress disorder and would have to undergo physiotherapy to regain full use of her fingers.

Witness Crusaders has seen ­photographs of Mhlongo’s infected hand, which is still visibly scarred, and has copies of her medical accounts, Unisa bills and her psychologist’s report.

Distressed at the way she had allegedly been treated and that Woolworths had not finalised the claim in almost six months, Mhlongo asked me to intervene.

I asked Woolworths why Mhlongo was not assisted in the store and why her claim had not been finalised under its public liability insurance.

“We are addressing Ms Mhlongo’s claim and we intend to resolve the issue as soon as possible,” Woolworths ­responded.

“We do call on medical experts to ­attend to any injuries in a Woolworths store. A Woolworths employee initially assisted Ms Mhlongo. The employee went to call the store manager and when they returned they found that Ms Mhlongo had unfortunately left the store. We have been in regular contact with Ms Mhlongo since then and finally received all the information necessary to process her the claim. The process of ­assessing the claim is now under way. We regret the inconvenience …”

Mhlongo’s attorney Kirsten Smith of Selzer Smith and Swales said on Friday that Woolworths’ attorney had subsequently sent a letter stating he had ­advised his client that “the nature of the incident was not foreseeable and preventable”, although it seemed Woolworths had not yet made a decision.

“But the fact of the matter is that it has caused such serious damage to her hand and she is in and out of hospital. What she is claiming is actually insurmountable,” Smith said.

Smith said Woolworths understandably had to deal with consumers who were “jumping on the bandwagon” with claims but she believed Mhlongo had a strong case.

I will keep you updated on the final outcome of the case.

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